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T.J. Watt not participating in team drills during contract negotiations

Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt has not participated in team drills during training camp. Late last month, Mike Tomlin made it seem as if Watt was rehabbing an injury, saying Watt was day to day and adding, “I don’t have to report injuries this time of year, so I won’t.”

As it turns out, Watt is holding in as his representation and the Steelers work on a contract extension.

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler revealed the truth a few days ago when asked about Watt’s absence in practice. “That’s none of my business,” Butler said, via Bob Labriola of the team website. “I hope he signs a contract, and let’s get it done. When he gets that done, we’ll talk about that.”

Steelers president Art Rooney II said recently the team hopes to have a deal with Watt completed before the start of the season. Until then, Watt is taking part only in meetings and conditioning work.

Not unique at all, really,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday, via Labriola. “You know, that negotiation process is going to run its course. Some run their courses faster than others. If I remember correctly, Cam Heyward had less than 100 percent participation when he was in a similar circumstance a short time ago. I like to focus my energies on the guys who are working, and I’m less concerned about the guys who aren’t, whether it’s contractually related or injury related. At this time of the year, I’m all eyes on the guys who are working, and one man’s misfortune or inconvenience is an opportunity for another.”

Watt is in the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, scheduled to earn $10.09 million. The Steelers’ team policy is not to negotiate contract extensions once the regular season begins.

“I’m not into the hypotheticals,” Tomlin said when asked what might happen if Watt doesn’t have a new contract by the time the regular season opens. “You know, we’ll deal with today, and then we’ll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow. You can talk all day about hypotheticals relative to that issue and others.”

Watt, 26, made the All-Pro team each of the past two seasons and was third in defensive player of the year voting in 2019 and second last season. He has 29.5 sacks the past two seasons, including an NFL-best 15 in 2020, with 77 quarterback hits, 15 pass breakups, 10 forced fumbles and 23 tackles for loss.

Tomlin is unconcerned about Watt falling behind by not practicing.

“The business end is going to run its course,” Tomlin said. “T.J. is highly conditioned. Our strength staff is working with him. He’s getting in good work days, and the process is running its course. In the meanwhile, I’m focused on the guys who are working and their level of productivity and what type of days they’ve been having.”